The longtime residence of the late soap opera icon Lee Phillip Bell has come up for sale, carrying an attention-grabbing, if perhaps not entirely surprising, $39 million pricetag. Well-maintained, with exquisitely curated grounds, the multi-structure estate sprawls across 2.5 acres of hilltop land in the prime lower Benedict Canyon area of Los Angeles, lording over the surrounding neighbors and offering views to the Century City and Downtown L.A. skylines.
Originally built in 1934, the property was owned in the 1940s by Academy Award-nominated actor Charles Boyer, a Hollywood leading man of the era who starred in a number of black-and-white classics, including “Gaslight,” “Algiers,” “Conquest,” and “Love Affair,” to name but a few.
In the late ’40s, Boyer sought to terminate his contract with RKO Pictures, one of the big five studios of Hollywood’s Golden Age. As part of the unusual settlement negotiations, the studio agreed to purchase his sprawling estate in the so-called Beverly Hills Post Office neighborhood. At that time, RKO was owned outright by eccentric business magnate Howard Hughes, so Hughes essentially became the home’s new owner, though his name never appeared in property records.
So the midcentury gossip goes, Hughes kept the high-maintenance property vacant for a few years, until his ex-flame and longtime confidante Katharine Hepburn went sniffing around L.A. for a suitable house to rent. It was Hughes who encouraged her to lease the former Boyer compound, which she happily agreed to do, settling into the property sometime around 1951 — right around the time she filmed the iconic “The African Queen,” which brought her a fifth Best Actress Oscar nomination.
Over the ensuing decades, the house passed to less notable owners. In 1986, it was sold for $2.9 million to pioneering soap opera creator William J. Bell and his business partner wife Lee, who created a decades-strong television empire with the “The Bold and the Beautiful” and “The Young and the Restless.” Bell lived in the house until his 2005 death; his wife continued residing there until her own passing earlier this year.
The sprawling property is comprised of a substantial main house, two detached guesthouses and a poolhouse, plus a full-size tennis court with viewing pavilion. Protected by massive gates, the brick driveway is lined on both sides by rows of Italian cypresses so perfectly trimmed, they’d impress even a stickler like Hercule Poirot. Towering palms ring the property, and the entire lot is landscaped with formal gardens and stone fountains.
Inside the red tile-roofed main house are no fewer than seven fireplaces, per the listing, including one in the cozy screening room. High ceilings and walls of glass lend the place a welcome airiness, while views drink in much of the L.A. basin and the Pacific Ocean.
A substantial stone patio has plenty of space for alfresco backyard entertaining, and steps down to an almost perfectly oval swimming pool, still equipped with an old-timey diving board and stepladder. Beyond that lies a cabana, with two baths and convenient changing facilities.
Astute real estate watchers will recall this is not the first time Bell’s name has come up in recent months — back in April, her vacation home in the exclusive Malibu Colony came to market with a $21.5 million ask. That property, one of the few oceanfront houmes in the community with its own private swimming pool, remains available with an unchanged pricetag.